The Loneli­est Bach­e­lor

SLOW Magazine - - Contents - Text & Im­age © Sarah Ram­nath

Per­fect for pic­nics, func­tions, fam­ily get-to­geth­ers, or sim­ply tak­ing time off from your busy sched­ule to spend time with loved ones – or maybe in­dulging in some metime – the Dur­ban Botanic Gar­dens (DBG) is a must-visit.

Es­tab­lished in 1849, the DBG was orig­i­nally on the south bank of the Um­geni River. In 1851, the gar­dens re­lo­cated closer to town on the slopes of the Berea for­est to its present site. It is hard to be­lieve that this place is so old, as it is beau­ti­fully well­main­tained, with gi­gan­tic trees, bril­liant blooming flora, and lush, metic­u­lously groomed lawns.

The tree-lined path­ways welcome you to the well-man­i­cured gar­dens. Staying strictly on the path­way does not de­prive you of tak­ing in the scenery. The lay­out is such that ev­ery­thing is still in full view. The beauty and the grandeur of the gar­dens pro­vide a per­fect back­drop for wed­dings and even mod­el­ling shoots.

As suc­cinctly de­scribed by Kerry Philips of the DBG, the gar­dens is a “li­brary of plants”. A plethora of ex­otic plants can be found in the gar­dens, and you won’t be left guess­ing, as all are iden­ti­fi­able with plant la­bels that also con­tain their places of ori­gin.

Cy­cads have been around since the Juras­sic Pe­riod about 200 mil­lion years ago. The DBG is home to one of the rarest cy­cad plants in the world – the En­cephalar­tos Woodii. Amaz­ingly, the E. Woodii sur­vived the catas­tro­phe that wiped out the di­nosaurs. This plant is so rare mainly be­cause there is no known fe­male ver­sion. The rare cy­cad was named af­ter a Bri­tish botanist, John Med­ley Wood, who dis­cov­ered it in 1895. If no fe­male plant is found, the E. Woodii will even­tu­ally go ex­tinct, hence, this cy­cad has been dubbed as the “loneli­est bach­e­lor” on Earth.

The Zizi­phus mu­cronata, more com­monly known as the Buf­falo Thorn, is about 160-years-old – older than the gar­dens, and the only sur­vivor from the orig­i­nal site. There are over 80 her­itage trees which could be well over a cen­tury old.

The DBG has a vast col­lec­tion of over 860 palm trees of 130 species. There is a cen­te­nar­ian palm called the ilala which is doc­u­mented to have been planted by one of the cu­ra­tors back in 1867.

Ernest Thorpe, who was the cu­ra­tor in 1962, was the driv­ing force in start­ing the or­chid col­lec­tion, which now boasts over 8,000 or­chids. The Ernest Thorpe Or­chid Dis­play House was opened in his hon­our and is still in pris­tine con­di­tion.

The But­ter­fly Habi­tat Gar­den is a new­comer to the DBG. This dome-shaped struc­ture is di­vided into mod­ules, each meet­ing the spe­cific needs of any par­tic­u­lar but­ter­fly group. Most im­por­tantly, the but­ter­flies are not con­fined to cages or tanks – the en­vi­ron­ment mim­ics na­ture in its unique lay­out.

El­e­gant Egyp­tian geese can be seen wad­dling around the gar­dens. And, if you’re lucky enough, ter­rapin tur­tles can be spot­ted laz­ing in the sun, in the pond, or on the wa­ter’s edge.

Less mo­bile vis­i­tors can also en­joy see­ing the gar­dens via a golf-cart tour. En­gag­ing a tour guide is a great way to ex­plore the gar­dens, dis­cov­er­ing ev­ery nook and cranny which you could have oth­er­wise over­looked.

Even if you are not pas­sion­ate about botany, you can still en­joy the seren­ity of the gar­dens. Benches, do­nated in loving mem­ory of many loved ones lost, line the walk­ways.

The Mu­sic by the Lake Con­cert Se­ries is a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence in the gar­den. It is so-called be­cause the con­certs are held at the beau­ti­ful lake’s edge of the gar­den.

Bring along your lit­tle ones to join in the Easter Eg­gsplorer Egg Hunt closer to Easter, where they hunt for eggs that the Easter Bunny has hid­den in the gar­dens. Once they have found them all, they can then claim their cho­co­laty sur­prise and DBG’S Eg­gsplorer Cer­tifi­cate.

For a quick bite you can visit the tea gar­den, well known for its de­lec­ta­ble scones.

To re­lax and en­joy the sim­ple pleasures of life, bring along a pic­nic bas­ket, a blan­ket, and en­joy the tran­quil­lity of the DBG.

For more in­for­ma­tion, please visit www.dur­ban­b­otan­ic­gar­dens.org.za.

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